Author: Audrey Driscoll

Writer, gardener, lapsed cataloguer, and author of the Herbert West Series.

American robin and cotoneaster bush full of berries. Blurry bird image.

Book Review: Encourage a Child to Watch Birds, by Denzil Walton

I’m not a birdwatcher, except in the sense of noticing who’s hanging around the bird feeders in the back garden. I don’t have a life list, nor even a decent pair of binoculars. And as can be seen from the two photos accompanying this post, I’m not that great at taking pictures of birds either. (That blurry shape in the featured image is a robin (American type) landing on a cotoneaster bush full of berries. Robins have been feasting on those berries for the past week.)

Despite the above, I like birds, and I’m keen on helping out the ones that live around here. A pair of Bewick’s Wrens nested in an old shoe on my back porch in 2015. So I hope that gives me some credibility for this book review.

This is a short, well-organized, and clearly written book intended for adults with a child or children in their lives. Its main intent is to help them develop an interest in observing and learning about birds in the natural environment. The introduction specifies that the suggested activities are screen-free, and this is true, although internet resources are mentioned peripherally. Otherwise, each chapter takes the child and adult companion outside to experience birds in a variety of ways.

Ten chapters, or “Ideas,” start with the most basic activities – looking at birds in parks, gardens, and urban environments – and progress to relatively advanced projects, such as keeping detailed notes on bird observations, or dissecting owl pellets to investigate owl diets! Topics include buying binoculars, obtaining books about birds, learning to recognize birds’ songs and calls, and setting up bird feeding stations. Each one is dealt with in simple, clear language. The author’s introduction says it’s not necessary to follow up the ideas in the order presented, or even to work through them all. The reader is encouraged to respect the child’s interests and use the book accordingly.

Each Idea provides basic facts about the topic, summing up with a list of projects to do together and questions that may be asked to help focus the child’s attention on details. It’s clear that this book is intended for people who are eager to spend time with children and act as guides and resources. This is not a book for someone looking to send kids off to amuse themselves.

The author points out how the bird-related activities may kindle other interests in children, such as photography, drawing, writing, music, even astronomy. Observing birds may present opportunities for using math skills, or discussing life-and-death issues such as the fact that some birds kill and eat other birds. The broader topics of conservation and environmental issues may also be approached.

The language is clear and the formatting excellent. In keeping with the “non-screen” approach, the reader is encouraged to use their public library as a resource for books and other materials. Many of the birds mentioned specifically are those of the UK and western Europe, but the book is intended for readers anywhere in the world, referencing organizations and resources specific to North America and Australia.

Altogether, this is an excellent book for anyone who wants to introduce children to birds and the outdoors, and even to learn more about these things themselves. More information about the book and author is available at:  https://encourageachild.org/

Bewick's wren
Bewick’s Wren
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Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) and Santolina

Falling into Winter

I’ve just been looking over some of my old posts tagged “fall.” Many of the same scenes that struck me as photo-worthy just a few weeks ago also did a few years ago. It’s easy to forget, because every year some combinations of colour and light seem to be the best ever. So there’s no harm in revisiting them.

The featured image at the top of the post shows “plumbago” ( Ceratostigma plumbaginoides ) foliage turning red, with a few fading blue flowers, and silvery grey Santolina foliage.

Front garden featuring Stipa gigantea
The blooms on the ornamental grass Stipa gigantea are still a feature of this bed, months after they finished.

I’m pretty tolerant of our urban deer. Even though I thought I had their preferred plants figured out, I was surprised to find most of the yellow chrysanthemums eaten. And even geranium (Pelargonium) flowers, despite their earthy smell.

Chrysanthemums and Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria)
Good thing I took this photo, because most of the flowers became snacks for a browsing deer. It left the Dusty Miller alone, however.

When something in the garden catches my eye, I grab the camera and run out to capture it before it’s gone. Light effects, like this one, are especially fleeting.

Stipa gigantea and fading aster foliage lit up by morning sun
Stipa gigantea and fading aster foliage lit up by morning sun.

Then I race around snapping whatever else looks good. Like this foliage combination.

Lambs' ears and periwinkle foliage
Fuzzy lambs’ ears foliage with periwinkle and other stuff.

And just so this isn’t all “same old,” a surprise visitor this fall was this single Amanita mushroom, lurking behind the bench near the pond, at the foot of the weeping birch.

Amanita muscari mushroom at foot of birch tree
Amanita muscari mushroom on birch trunk

Osiris image from replica of Sennedjem tomb RBCM Egypt exhibit 2018

A Quick Visit to Ancient Egypt

On Saturday, November 24th, I spent a few hours surrounded by objects from ancient Egypt. After a couple of years immersed in researching and writing a novel featuring such items, I was delighted when the Royal BC Museum hosted a travelling exhibit called Egypt: The Time of Pharaohs. (It continues until December 31st, for anyone who might be in or near Victoria, B.C.)

And I was intrigued to hear that on this particular day, an anthropology class at a local college was to stage a mock ancient Egyptian funeral right in the exhibit space. The project was part of a course called Anthropology of Death. The students did a lot of work to create the atmosphere and physical objects. They had even mummified a chicken, which was on display just outside the exhibit space.

A human dummy mummy (not a real one!) was carried along the twisting path through the various dimly-lit rooms, into a life-size replica of the tomb of Sennedjem, an artisan of Thebes. It was placed into a coffin (a borrowed theatrical prop), and the correct ceremonies were performed, including the all-important “Opening of the Mouth.”

Mock ancient Egyptian funeral in the RBCM Egypt exhibit
You can just see the “mummy” in the bottom of the coffin. Offerings have been placed at the left end and the participants are holding scrolls with the ceremonial words.

Photos taken with a phone in dim spaces with lots of reflecting glass (exhibit cases) and small spot lights, among crowds of people jostling around, aren’t the best. (That’s my excuse, anyway.) I focussed (yes, indeed!) on items of special interest to me, either because they appear in my recently published book, or, in the case of the cat statue and mummy, just because.

This photo of the Bennu Bird was one of the best, along with the one of the Osiris image at the top of the post.

The Bennu Bird, from the replica of the tomb of Sennedjem.
Bennu Bird in the replica tomb

This stone sculpture of the head of an unknown queen was in a dark corner, and my photo (somewhat enhanced) makes her look quite creepy.

Stone sculpture of head of unknown queen from RBCM Egypt exhibit.
Sculpture of unknown queen.

False doors (or “spirit doors”) appear in my novel, so of course I took a photo of this one. It dates back to the Old Kingdom, which makes it about five thousand years old.

Old Kingdom false door, made of limestone with hieroglyph inscriptions, from RBCM Egypt exhibit.

Shabtis (or ushabtis, or shawabtis) are small human figure sculptures that were placed in tombs so they could work for the deceased person in the afterlife. They were pretty much mass-produced, but sizes and materials varied somewhat. This one struck me as looking quite sinister, so I touched up the image to emphasize that.

Shabti from RBCM Egypt exhibit 2018
You wouldn’t want to meet this guy in a dark alley.

Most people know the Egyptians had a reverence for cats. At least I think it was reverence, since there was a cat goddess, Bastet. Many cat mummies have been found, and this exhibit included one. My photo makes it even weirder than it looked in real life reality. The covering is quite intricately patterned, and the fake eyes and ears are touching.

Cat mummy from RBCM Egypt exhibit.
Sad kitty…
Bronze cat statue from RBCM Egypt exhibit.
Detail of bronze cat statue. Really, it’s an elegant piece, but this picture makes it look more like the cat mummy above.

As always, one exits through the gift shop. I couldn’t resist buying a pair of fake shabtis. (You have to read my book to find out why.)

Reproduction shabti figurines from RBCM Egypt exhibit shop
They look a bit apprehensive, don’t they? Right now they’re standing near my computer, wondering what jobs I’m going to make them do.

I’ve always been a sucker for blue glass, so this little jug was an obvious choice. I like that it was made in Egypt (as were the shabtis) from recycled glass.

Cobalt glass pot with small handles, Baladi glass from RBCM Egypt exhibit shop
“Baladi” (which means “local”) glass

Book Review: The Crux Anthology compiled and edited by Rachael Ritchey

First, I’ll note that I have a story in this anthology. It’s called “The Blue Rose.” That’s all I’m going to say about it.

Here are links to pre-order the ebook. It’s $0.99 now, but goes up to $5.99 after the end of November, so act fast!

AMAZON   Barnes & Noble   Apple   Kobo

And here’s my review. This contest-based anthology is grouped around the theme of adventure as prompted by the picture on the cover. Most (but not all) of the stories recognizably incorporate the picture’s elements – a youngish bearded man, a woman with white-blond hair, a white temple-like structure on a steep green hill, suggestions of a cave, and a hint of the supernatural. It was interesting to see how closely authors adhered to the picture, and what forms the elements took in their stories.

The quality of the prose is uniformly good, although the authors’ styles vary, as might be expected, since they hail from widely scattered parts of the English-speaking world. The stories range from magical fantasy to grim dystopia, and include humour, mystery, romance and tragedy. Most readers will find something in this collection to captivate, intrigue, thrill, and entertain.

Specifically, these are six stories I especially enjoyed:

“The BUSS Stop” by K.R.Ludlow, for its unabashed goofiness and fast pace.

“The Cave of Legix” by David Jesson, for the realistic depiction of an expedition’s interpersonal dynamics and an ingenious mystery in a tropical jungle cave.

“The Paths We Choose” by R.J. Llewellyn, for its characters’ strong emotions and tragic choices made under extreme duress.

“Daddy Forgot Water” by Barb Taub, for its unflinching presentation of a horrific but plausible scenario.

“The God Strain” by Gary Jefferies, for a darkly humorous look at the beginnings of what might turn out to be a similar scenario.

“The Forever Door” by Rachael Ritchey, for fast-paced thrills in a vividly imagined setting, with a compelling quest, a remorseless villain, and a relatable sibling duo as protagonists.

I was delighted to be included among this group of authors and to work with Rachael and other members of the “Crux Crew” to let the world know about this worthwhile book.

winter jasmine, yellow flowers, Jasminum nudiflorum

Winter Scents and Flowers

Summer in the garden is now a fading memory, but gardeners may be planning for next year, considering new plants for their gardens. In this fortunate part of the world (Zone 8 or 9 to those familiar with the USDA climate zones), winter flowers are starting, with more anticipated. For gardeners lucky enough to live in similar climates, here is a short list of plants that bloom between November and March, most of them with delightful perfumes.

IMG_3065Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is in its first flush of bloom in my garden. I love the way it hangs down the trellis, displaying its bright yellow funnel-shaped flowers. The buds are yellow with red tints, and should keep opening at least until February, unless we get brutal weather. Sadly, despite its name, which suggests fragrance, winter jasmine has no scent at all. But Anna’s hummingbirds, who are year-round residents here, visit the flowers regularly. The plant is easy to grow and to propagate, as stems that touch the ground form roots at the point of contact. In fact, I have to keep an eye on it to prevent unwanted rooting.

violets, Viola odorata

The common sweet violet (Viola odorata) is one of those near-weeds that moves in and makes itself at home. I’ve had to thin it out in a few spots to keep it from overrunning other plants. But on relatively warm winter days, its perfume wafts around and reminds me why I’m happy to have this plant in the garden. It pretty much takes care of itself. Deer nibble it sometimes, but it’s tough and regrows. It’s even moved into the lawn, which is fine with me.

Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis species

Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis and hybrids) is described thus in one gardening manual: “… one of the most uniquely beautiful of winter-flowering shrubs when its vigorous upright branches are set with its spidery, bright yellow, richly fragrant flowers.” I couldn’t resist that, so resolved to plant one of these marvelous shrubs in my garden. The book says witch hazels “…thrive in deep, well-drained soil, preferably sandy loam enriched with plenty of leafmold or compost. They prefer light woodland conditions, but do well in full sun, especially if given ample moisture during the growing season.”*

Chines witch hazel foliageMy witch hazel is situated in conditions similar to those, so it should thrive, meaning bloom, but mine hardly ever does — only once or twice in 25 years. I suspect the problem is insufficient moisture in summer. Our increasingly warm, dry summers don’t bode well for future success, and in fact my plant looked less than happy at the end of last summer. But its shape is elegant even without blooms, and it sometimes has good fall colour. I know of several plants in the vicinity that bloom regularly, exuding their wonderful fragrance on January days, so I live in hope.

Spurge laurel, Daphne laureola

Spurge laurel (Daphne laureola) really is a weed shrub, an undesirable alien that has invaded woodlands in this region. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who gardens near woods that are as yet without it (sort of like ivy, which has overrun most natural parks around here). However, it was already present in this garden when I arrived, so I’ve kept a few plants. Needless to say, it grows well in dry, rooty soil, and its leathery black-green foliage looks good in dark corners at the edge of the garden where not much else will grow. The black berries don’t seem to appeal to birds, so the seeds tend to sprout close to the parent plant, which makes the seedlings easy to find and pull up. Its best feature, as far as I’m concerned, is the haunting perfume of the little green flowers. I catch whiffs of it on February nights, when I’m checking the max/min thermometer on the back porch. The scent induces a nameless nostalgia, to the point that I worked a mention of it into one of my novels.

Sweet box (Sarcococca species) is a shrub I don’t have here as yet, but having read that it “tolerates dry shade,” I’m thinking about where I might plant one. It’s strongly perfumed, as I know from encounters with it on walks in my neighbourhood. It’s a broad-leaved evergreen, 3-4 feet (1 metre) tall, with flowers that look like those of witch hazel, except they’re white. One of the species (S. hookeriana) is said to “spread easily by underground stems,” which raises a red flag for me. I already have too many shrubs with that tendency. So perhaps S. confusa or S. ruscifolia are the ones to look for.

winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima

Winter-blooming honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is a shrubby plant (unlike the climbing honeysuckles). It can get quite tall (15 feet or 5 metres) and almost as wide, but can be pruned as hard as needed to keep it within bounds. It’s a semi-evergreen, which means it sheds weirdly yellow-grey leaves practically year round. Some of the previous year’s branches wither in summer and look seriously ugly, screaming to be pruned. On the plus side, it blooms in late winter and early spring. The flowers are white and sort of semi-transparent, so they don’t look like much, but they produce an intensely sweet lemon scent, especially on still, damp evenings. For that I’m willing to forgive its ugly duckling qualities.

 

*Quotations from Trees and Shrubs for Coastal British Columbia Gardens by John A. Grant and Carol L. Grant. 2nd edition, 1990.

 

 

The Crux Crew Mini-Interview

Find out more about three of the authors in the Crux Anthology.

Rachael Ritchey

I couldn’t help reblogging this entertaining and interesting interview (more of a conversation between three authors we get to sit it on) between host author Joy E. Rancatore, R. J. Rodda, and Audrey Driscoll. 

To enjoy the interview in its entirety, head to Joy’s website by clicking this link:

http://www.joyerancatore.com/2018/11/15/the-crux-crew-mini-interview/

Following is a snippet, but don’t miss out on the rest. These ladies are smart, and their conversation is one we can all enjoy. 

~ Rachael Ritchey

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The Crux Crew Mini-Interview

Is it tea time where you are? Are you sipping your morning coffee? Even if it’s neither, I invite you to pour yourself a cuppa and join me, Joy E. Rancatore(JER) and authors R J Rodda (RJR) and Audrey Driscoll (AD) as we have a little chat about writing, stories and the release of The Crux Anthology. We are proud to be part of…

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So – we’ve remembered

This is such an eloquently written post, I had to reblog it. Paragraph 9 (the 3rd from last) is especially relevant to all of us.

besonian

Dateline – 1105, on the morning of 11 November 2018.

So – here in London, England it’s gone eleven, and we’ve ‘Remembered’. Now we’ll go out and sell more guns and bombs to Saudi. And to anyone else who’ll listen.

Remembering is easy. Putting a stop to the carnage is harder. In fact, it’s proved so hard since 1918 that we’ve never actually stopped. We’re still at it. Families are torn apart, men, women and their children maimed and killed. But they’re not British bombs and guns, we say. You see, we stipulate that our bombs and guns are not used in life-threatening scenarios. So imagine – two Saudi air force men are loading a bomber with weapons for a raid on The Yemen. “We haven’t got enough bombs to fill her up, mate, this time,” one says to the other. “What d’you mean?” his colleague replies, “there’s a…

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Chances and Changes

Now that She Who Comes Forth is fully launched, it’s your last chance to buy the ebook at the special pre-launch price. By next week, you’ll have to part with another dollar or so.

I’m also making price changes to two of the books in the Herbert West Series. So if you’ve been meaning to acquire The Friendship of Mortals, make haste.

On the other hand, if you’re curious about its sequel, Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey, make a note to check it out next week.

AMAZON:  US  UK  CA  AU

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AudreyD The Herbert West Series

The Crux Anthology print cover

“The Crux Anthology” Available Soon!

It feels like way longer ago than January that I saw a post on Rachael Ritchey’s blog announcing the Adventure SciFi and Fantasy Contest and decided to enter. Usually I don’t do contests, but there was something about this one…

I was thrilled when I actually finished my story and sent it in, and even more thrilled when Rachael notified me it was in the top ten. Then in May, I was totally chuffed that my story won Third Prize.

And now, The Crux Anthology is about to be published. Take another look at that gorgeous cover. Then take a look at this…

The Crux Anthology back cover description

And here’s the list of those authors…

thecrux-ebook1.jpg

You may recognize some of these folks as bloggers. Here’s a chance to read a curated selection of their fiction.

Just so you don’t miss any important details, click here to sign up for the Crux-specific newsletter.

The release date is November 26th, but you can pre-order on the 19th. All sales proceeds will go to the charity Compassion International.